Archbishops say extreme capitalism has become a new creed

By staff writers
September 25, 2008

The Anglican Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has spoken of his "outrage" at those responsible for short selling shares in HBOS labelling those responsible as "bank robbers" and "asset strippers".

With his senior colleague Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the 77-million worldwide Anglican Communion, he has said that money can become a 'false god' in an age which often thinks it has left religion behind but still finds unworthy things to worship - like welath and possessions.

Addressing the annual dinner of the Institute of Worshipful Company of International Bankers at Drapers Hall in the City of London, Dr Sentamu declared: "To a bystander like me, those who made £190million deliberately underselling the shares of HBOS, in spite of its very strong capital base, and drove it into the bosom of Lloyds TSB Bank, are clearly bank robbers and asset strippers."

He continued: "We find ourselves in a market system which seems to have taken its rules of trade from Alice in Wonderland, where the share value of a bank is no longer dependent on the strength of its performance but rather on the willingness of the Government to bail it out, or rather on whether the Government has announced its intentions so to do."

The Archbishop also spoke of the contrast between the bail outs being proposed for banks and the lack of funding for the Millennium Development Goals which are due to be discussed at the United Nations tomorrow.

Dr Sentamu said: "I will [shortly] attend a meeting to launch a campaign of 'Education for All' as part of the global effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including the eradication of global poverty by 2015. Of course for such a target to be achieved there needs to be stable financial systems. There needs to be stable financial systems. Without a solid global economic base to work from, the eradication of world poverty would be an even greater task.

"But as one columnist recently noted, 'the President of the United States recently announced a $700 billion bailout plans for banks and financial institutions. One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable.' It would cost $5 billion to save six million children's lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they now tell us that action for the poorest on the planet is too expensive?"

Dr Sentamu also drew attention to the plight of those outside the financial industry who would benefit from Government assistance at a time of need, highlighting the case of one particular farmer in North Yorkshire.

"Let me tell you about Richard, a Yorkshire farmer I know, who specialises in potato farming," he said. "He also grows wheat. We may have not enjoyed the wet summer, but it has proved disastrous for Richard and many other farmers, many of whom have lost about a third of their earnings. The harvest is late, there is a huge cost in drying out the crops, and sowing for next season is late."

The archbishop went on: "In this current situation I hope that the government responds to the call from the Rural Advocate to bring forward payment of subsidies.

"If they can find $700 billion to support the market, will the Government - and bankers – help bail out our farmers? Farmers are facing ruin not because of bad investment, or speculation. Can we help secure the vital food security they provide?"

Dr Sentamu ended his speech with an appeal for the "Deposit the Difference" scheme launched recently by the Global Exchange for Social Investment.

He said: "The world's poor are waiting. And there is something that you can do to help. In fact it's something everyone can do to help. What is it? - It's 'Topping Up for the world's poor", giving a little with every transaction to a scheme called Deposit the Difference."

Sentamu explained: "Imagine that every time you bought something, you could arrange to top up your bills by a few pennies to the nearest pound above, and deposit the difference into a fund for educating the poor children of the world. Then imagine that each month you could arrange that any spare pence above the last pound of your total salaries be taken off and you could deposit the difference in the same fund.

"Next, imagine that your example was taken up by everyone in the country – and that together we could help ensure that all those extra pennies could be channelled into areas of need – especially into Education and Health for the word's poor," he concluded.

Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned in a magazine article that modern devotion to the free market is a form of idolatry and that Karl Marx was morally right in his analysis of the power of "unbridled capitalism".

He believes that Marx's economic theories, as implemented by authoritarian state regimes, have proved equally wrong and harmful to unfettered market ideology, but that the protest against a greed-driven system is one that should be taken seriously.

Already commentators in conservative papers are accusing the archbishops of "naivete" and "leftism". But they believe they are speaking for a majority of people of all political persuasions, including people of faith, who believe that the global economic system and Britain's part in it needs serious reform.

The archbishops' comments came following a tumultuous week in which four major financial institutions went bust or were taken over, triggering multi-billion pound government rescue plans to steady the markets - after traders targeted banks that had been weakened by exposure to unrecoverable mortgage debts and a reduced ability to borrow money, reports the daily Telegraph.

The billionaire Wall Street hedge fund manager John Paulson was one of those who made money by betting that the share price of HBOS, Britain's largest mortgage lender, would fall. The activities of such short-sellers - now temporarily banned - led to a collapse in the bank's shares last week and it had to be bought out by Lloyds TSB.

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